Roma Agarwal, Independent Healthcare Consultant recommends measures to build a successful brand, right from attracting customers and providing service to building a relationship with the brand and converting them into loyal customers
In a hospital service industry, every employee works with the principal goal of providing service to its customers. The consumers here are the patients coming for primary consultation or seeking other support services, be it radiology, diagnostics or pathological investigations.
Hospital marketing strategies are different from other product marketing strategies where, in the latter, one can experiment with the content and market it only through monologue channels. When the most important aspect that matters from a business perspective (in private or corporate organisations) is profit or loss, there needs to be a discussion on what strategies were implemented, what the central plan was, right from the start.
In marketing, each sub-department works taking one step at a time, creating the proposition, getting approvals, working on the content and then beginning with field work. Right from attracting the customer, bringing them in, providing the service, building their relationship with the brand till the final step of converting them into your brand promoters, all of it, each step here should not be just a responsibility but it has to showcase your skills, requiring development through strategic planning.
Following are ten strategies which make for the soul in successful hospital marketing:
Positioning your brand
Marketing goes with the definition of ‘identifying and meeting human and social needs.’ The catch here is to simply think. Think of ways your hospital will be different from the rest outside your fence, ways to reason why your potential customer should get converted to a loyal one, and ways to present the above-mentioned points distinguishing yourself from the rest. The areas could be your associated consultants, use of state-of-the-art technology, or your service standards. Positioning your brand with the advantages can be done with basic position maps. This marketing strategy will communicate points of similarities and differences with your competitors.
Analysing the market needs
Researching your market has been the first step, the core of marketing strategies. Here research is your grip into the specific details of what your customer reach is, who your customers are and what exactly they need. When you have your research done, then the conversation will be about the last specific mentioned here. ‘Need’. Just like an obvious truth, there is a distinction in people’s understanding of the difference between what the customer ‘wants’ and what it ‘needs’. While the former is something which they are aware of, the latter is the untapped market potential which you’ll have access to, only with your research paper in hand. In a healthcare industry, one can create demand for a service just by analysing the market’s need and increasing its awareness.
Winning the activity branding game
When the need has been found and you’re ready with the proposition to your business plan, the next step will be its execution, the final presentation to the public. In hospitals, this is essentially required when marketing activities are planned. For a healthcare service provider, for example, the need could be any lifestyle disorder widespread in your market niche, and the ‘value’ here will come with the understanding of such prevalence in the public. Here the hospital brand enters, with educating the public through their marketing activities in branding and promotions, that such prevalence requires an intervention and that ‘we’ are here with its solution. Because many marketing activities fail with few footfalls, not because the ‘need’ was lacking, but because your customer did not understand it. The plan is to be creatively simple.
Document customer’s value
The competition is huge and your consumer has several options to select from. What the marketer needs to work on is to make them understand why they need to ‘spend’ on ‘your’ brand. This requires customer value research where they understand what the brand values. Marketing campaigns based on social causes, events, celebrating awareness, etc. come under the umbrella of communicating important messages which the society understands, respects and ideals in, through these health campaigns. For example, hospitals can come up with a special women’s health package for breast-cancer awareness, or an ortho campaign for ‘parents’, targeting specific market segments.
Stressing on internal marketing
internal marketing is where you involve all your staff, from the ground level right up to the topmost hierarchical position. You have a large workforce working with you day and night; these people represent what your brand stands for and that understanding must be clear. This is not only restricted to the human resources but involves marketing personnel as well. Why? Because healthcare is consumer centred. The patients here have a choice. This is where the marketer comes into the picture with the integration of these values through campaigns to align all employees to represent your brand value. When you have a campaign and all your staff (customer care associates, nursing staff, medical officers, consultants and everyone else) is (a) aware of it (b) understands the ‘need’ that is represented in your branding and promotional activities and most importantly (c) is aligned with the value the brand reflects and the message it promotes , then wait for the results.
Your customer is your patient in the out-patient department who has come for a doctor’s consultation or a regular health check-up. They can also be an in-patient admission. Now, your customer will opt for your service only if they find the benefit to it. Marketing is not about your company’s sales, but it is solely about how your customers think they are benefited. Here, the strategy follows the age-old formula of value, benefit and cost. The formula states that ‘value’ is equal to ‘benefit’ upon ‘cost’. This implies that the customers will pay for your service only if they perceive the ‘value’ to be greater than 1, that is when they understand that the benefit, they are receiving is greater than the price they are paying for.
Healthcare is a growing industry where its consumers are up to date with all health-related information available online. Be it about an epidemic, a genetic disease or a new technological advancement in the field, for medical or surgical management, the awareness is the elephant in the room. In a digitally advancing scenario, you need to establish your online presence as well. Your hospital’s website ought to contain all information, from tie-ups to helpline numbers, online assistance 24*7, query redressal, feedbacks, testimonials, consultant’s information, their availability, milestones achieved, every other information which your customer should be aware of and updated regularly.
Directing communications through various channels
Hospital’s marketing strategies should focus on not only getting new customers, but also constantly retaining existing ones. The next stage to a loyal customer is a brand promoter. This will happen only if the customers get the service that they desire, more than what was expected. Analysing feedbacks and channelling other communications is important for brand loyalty. Your communications channels could be monologue (advertisements, promotions etc.) or dialogue channels (e-mails, call-centres etc). Hospitals can work on channelising inputs and feedbacks from these sources, converting leads and thus working on the strengths as well as correcting flaws in the journey to increasing customer loyalty.
Monitoring brand equity
Even with huge footfalls, some marketing campaigns fail, because of their below average turnovers. This can be attributed to a gap left somewhere in the strategic planning. To be consistent it is required to regularly audit and maintain your brand equity. This will help you grow, building relationship with your customers, increase demand and help you target customer segments in emerging markets.
The ocean strategy
With new hospitals springing up with their upbeat promotions and huge investments, your hospital needs to retain the existing position. When we discuss new market entries, there is usually a red one, where your competitor is entering an already potentially stable market with cut-throat competition. To retain the stance here, your organisation can always explore the ‘blue’, i.e. entering headstrong into a complete uncharted and untapped potential market with strategies ready to sail in the ocean (the blue ocean strategy).
When the market plays with the primary colours, the strategies in marketing will help you press them to grow in your niche market segment.